Communities Demand Accountability for Mining Injustices in the Dominican Republic

MiningWatch – Earthworks – Ekō

Activists and community members demonstrate outside the Dominican Republic’s Presidential Palace

(SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic) Today, over a hundred protesters gathered in front of the Presidential Palace in the Dominican Republic to demand justice for the 450 families living downstream of the Pueblo Viejo mine. They are asking the government to halt a planned expansion of the open-pit gold mine and meet demands to relocate affected families to a healthy environment where they can live free from the daily impacts of mining operations.

During the demonstration, communities delivered a petition signed by over 40,000 people worldwide to President Luis Abinader, echoing community calls for justice.

“We are protesting so that President Abinar realizes that relocation is a question of survival for these communities that have been abandoned. The communities are fed up and desperate, with families suffering from diseases, without water and without electricity," says Leoncia Ramos, member of the community of La Cerca, and spokesperson for the Comité Nuevo Renacer. "Our lives are threatened by millions of tons of active poison and toxic sludge from the tailings dam."

Pueblo Viejo, a joint venture between Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold and U.S.-based Newmont, is the world’s sixth largest gold mine. Communities living downstream from the mine, and particularly its tailings dam, have been calling to be relocated for years as they suffer the impacts of mining operations and waste storage, like contaminated water and associated health problems. Rather than address these concerns, the companies are pushing to expand operations and extend the mine’s life for an additional 25 years.

The proposed expansion would triple the footprint of the Pueblo Viejo mine and create a second tailings dam, the Naranjo tailings storage facility, to store mine waste.  Plans estimate that the dam will store 344.7 million tons of tailings and waste rock, held back by a wall that is 157 meters tall and 4 kilometers long –  one of the largest dams of this type in the world. To build this new tailings dam, six new communities will have to be relocated: Arroyo Vuelta, Las Lajas, Tres Bocas, Dos Palmas, La Placeta y La Jagua Mocha.

Until recently, details around the second tailings dam were sparse. While communities had been calling for the public release of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project for over a year, it wasn’t until June 2023 that public pressure on the government forced the Ministry of the Environment to make a copy public. The Espacio Nacional por la Transparencia de la Industria Extractivas (ENTRE), a national coalition of organizations monitoring extractive projects in the Dominican Republic, and impacted communities asked international partners, like Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada, to hire geophysicist Dr. Steven Emerman to carry out an independent review of the document. Among other deficiencies, his review found that the expansion plan failed to consider the safest options for waste management and the environmental review was incomplete.

“Today communities are clear. They have suffered the impacts of mining operations and waste storage for years and they understand the implications of expanding this mine,” says Jan Morrill, Tailings Campaign Manager at Earthworks. “Continuing to expand this project without addressing the serious flaws and omissions in the Environmental Impact Study would only compound the injustices and human rights violations they are already experiencing.”

"Over 40,000 people from all over the world have spoken out in support of the communities living in the shadow of Barrick Gold's Pueblo Viejo mine, and they are watching to see what the government does next," says Lacey Kohlmoos, Senior Campaign Manager at Ekō.  "If the communities' demands continue to be ignored, then government officials will face a wave of global outrage and condemnation."

“Calls to hold Barrick Gold accountable for significant environmental harm at its operations in the Dominican Republic and globally are only becoming stronger,” says Diana Martin, Co-manager at MiningWatch Canada. “As Barrick attempts to triple the footprint of Pueblo Viejo, we join mining-affected communities in their urgent call for relocation out of harm’s way in a manner that upholds their human rights and dignity.” 

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